Review: MY FAIR LADY at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

You'll have a "loverly" time!

By: Jul. 28, 2022
Review: MY FAIR LADY at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

My Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Lowe. The story centers around Cockney flower girl Eliza Dolittle, who becomes Professor Henry Higgin's "experiment" in phonetics but quickly proves to Higgins and to the audiences that she is quite more and is more of a lady than anyone can originally see. If you enjoy the "Golden Age" of musicals, this one is not to be missed.

In the 1930's film producer Gabriel Pascal acquired the rights to produce film versions of several of George Bernard Shaw's plays. Pygmalion, named for the Greek mythological figure who fell in love with one of his sculptures who came to life, was among these rights. Shaw, however, refused to allow Pygmalion to be adapted into a musical. After Shaw died in 1950, Pascal asked lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to write the musical adaptation and Lerner, along with his partner Frederick Lowe, agreed. However, it would be a long time before My Fair Lady would see the light of day. There were many people, including Rodgers and Hammerstein (another iconic musical theatre duo) who attempted to adapt Pygmalion into a musical and gave up. They told Lerner and Lowe that doing so would be impossible, so the duo abandoned the project for two years. After Pascal's death, Lerner and Lowe reunited and resumed their work. In 1955, the show was entitled "My Lady Liza" and casting soon began. Lerner preferred "My Fair Lady" which referred to one of Shaw's provisional titles for Pygmalion, and the title stuck. Starring Rex Harrison and a young Julie Andrews, the show had a pre-Broadway try-out in 1956 and premiered on Broadway on March 15, 1956. It transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre and then the Broadway Theatre, where it closed on September 29th, 1962, after 2,717 performances. The show has won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and the 1964 film production, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Shereen Ahmed captures the audience almost immediately with her sweet albeit dirty face and even sweeter tones. Iconic tunes such as "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" seem to flow right off the stage. Her headstrong Eliza is the perfect sparring partner for Laird Mackintosh's Henry Higgins, who becomes a sort of man-child in this production, throwing fits and crying for his mother. Ahmed has moments where she breaks the fourth wall where she looks to the audience as if saying "can you believe he just said that?" We as the audience feel for her and cheer her on as she toils away with her lessons. The ending is fairly ambiguous, as we see Eliza return to Higgins as he is listening to recordings of her voice in his melancholy state and presumably regrets his own harsh words. However, after he speaks the iconic line "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?" Eliza is seen walking away and we are left wondering what is going through her head. Will she stay with him or does she maintain her stance that she expresses in the song "Without You", where she firmly tells him she doesn't need him anymore.

Moments of comedy are needed amongst Higgins's exhausting lessons and they are provided by Colonel Pickering, played by Kevin Pariseau, Eliza's drunken father Alfred P. Doolittle, portryed by Martin Fisher, the firm yet compassionate Mrs. Pearce, played by Gayton Scott, and even Higgins's mother, who ultimately becomes an ally to Eliza, played by Leslie Alexander. There are also wonderful moments from the ensemble that showcase the beautiful costumes of Catherine Zuber, such as "The Embassy Waltz" and "Get Me to the Church On Time".

The set design is also quite stunning and Michael Yeargan's designs are utilized in every scene. During Eliza's number "Just You Wait", she makes her way through the entire house as the set rotates on the turntable. Donald Holder's lighting design brings it all together in an elegant way.

This production of My Fair Lady is a "loverly" way to open the new season on the Orpheum Stage and "with a little bit of luck" you'll be on your way to the theatre soon! The show runs until July 31st, so get your tickets today!


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